When You’re a Writer Who’s Not Writing

Placeholder ImageThere was a time you actually called yourself a “real writer.” You took every opportunity to write. You were desperate, at any time of day or night to get to your notebook. Maybe you slept with it next to your bed so you could write your dreams and thoughts immediately. You were an active lover of the written word and your nose was always in a book—if you weren’t writing.

Maybe you received some recognition for your work and people told you they liked what you wrote.

Then you stopped. Maybe now it’s been so long, you’re afraid you don’t have it anymore.

At this point, I’ve been a writer (professional and otherwise) for…well, I’ll say 22 years.    I didn’t always feel like I could call myself a writer, but the truth is, I was born one, and if you connected to the title of this post, you were too.

Here are few things I want to share:

1. Writing is a gift. It is not going to go away. It’s there, inside of you, waiting to be prompted. However, writing is a muscle we exercise, and if we haven’t been exercising it, we can’t expect to be strong right away. Do you go to the gym once and leave toned and HOT after two hours of exercise on a random day? No. Does it boost your confidence for the next couple of days? Absolutely. But the longer you go without exercise, your muscles may atrophy. You’ll lose confidence, and you’ll probably feel reluctant to go to the gym again, because you don’t want to fail. But when you really need exercise/writing, it will be there waiting. What you write may be weak, but when you develop consistency with writing, your “muscles” will strengthen.

2. “Sometimes the only job of a poet is to notice the different kinds of light on leaves.”—Abraham Smith. Abe is one of my poetry mentors and he told me this a long time ago, at a time I was worried because I no longer felt an impetus to write. This quote sounds a little lofty to some perhaps, but to me it is refreshingly reassuring. So you aren’t writing—as long as you are noticing and collecting, you are okay. Noticing how your daughter’s whole back fits the span of your hand, or where her ends are splitting, or how the yellow pansies near the driveway are wilting in the cold. Collecting experiences: memories, current events, words, colors. Because you are a thinking being you are always collecting, consciously or not. Especially as a writer. We often stand in witness. Be reassured if you are in a collecting and noticing place. Know that it is okay.

3. Be willing to start at the beginning. Toi Derricotte, author of “The Undertaker’s Daughter,” and co-founder of Cave Canem (an organization for black poets) said a few key things in a panel discussion I watched recently. She talked about her experience of a debilitating depression wherein she attempted suicide more than once. During this time she was extremely fatigued and because she had insomnia, she didn’t have the strength to write. When she finally began to write again, she says it was just her holding a pen, and moving it around on the paper. It was her beginning at the beginning, like a child—making shapes, then making letters, then finally writing.  I believe that because she loved writing, she was willing to do the work to build her muscle again. You may not be experiencing such a depression. It could just be that your lifestyle is not currently conducive to writing. I get that. But you too, can strengthen your work again. Be willing to start at the beginning. Be willing to do the work. You belong with us. You were born to do this.

4. The best thing for a writer is a book. Especially a non-writing writer. Keep reading.

5. Since writing is your gift, doing it can make you feel like the best version of yourself. It can be your “self-care.” It can be you, loving yourself.

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5 responses to “When You’re a Writer Who’s Not Writing”

  1. […] Writers write. Writers work-out, too. While we spend a lot of time mulling over ideas, working, and generally adulting, we also workout. I LOVE seeing photos on social media of writers going to the gym. So often we post gorgeous photography or family photos, but because there isn’t an emphasis on physical health in our profession, we often don’t post about it. It’s not that we aren’t working out, it’s just that we often don’t feel it’s “important enough” to post about. […]


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